NC State has four losses on the season, and three of them are of the gut-wrenching variety. In the season opener, the Wolfpack dominated South Carolina statistically but fell by a score when they failed to convert on first and goal from the 8-yard line in the closing seconds. In a game against the defending national champs, NC State had a chance to tie it up late when a drive stalled deep in Clemson territory.
But of all the losses, Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Wake Forest was the most frustrating. With less than two minutes remaining, quarterback Ryan Finley hit Emeka Emezie with a pass inside the 5-yard line. But before Emezie could enter the end zone for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown, Wake’s Demetrius Kemp knocked the ball free and recovered the fumble, preserving the 30-24 win.
The Wolfpack now have to put that behind them as they host rival North Carolina in the final game of the regular season. For the Tar Heels, it will be their final game of the year, period. At 3-8, there will be no bowl appearance for UNC, although Larry Fedora's team has showed some pride by winning their last two games.
North Carolina at NC State
When: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: NC State -12
Three Things to Watch
1. Health of Nyheim Hines
The junior from Garner, North Carolina, does it all for the Wolfpack. He leads the team in rushing, he catches the ball (21 rec., 111 yds.) and he’s the primary return man. But he left the Notre Dame game with an injury and did the same on Saturday at Wake Forest. While NC State has other weapons, Hines’ versatility and big-play capability are hard to replace. Against a UNC defense that has difficulty stopping the run (205.8 ypg, last in ACC and tied for 109th in the FBS), Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren obviously wants Hines on the field.
2. The emergence of Nathan Elliott
His first game against Miami was a learning situation, but in the two games since, the sophomore southpaw quarterback has shined. True, one game was against a subpar Pittsburgh pass defense and the other was against FCS opponent Western Carolina. But Elliott has ended the UNC quarterback shuffle by going 38-of-59 for 475 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in those two games. He also has developed a nice rapport with wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who has become UNC's main offensive weapon. Against an NC State pass defense that is tied for 91st in the country (242.0 ypg), Elliott will be putting the ball in the air again this coming Saturday.
3. Blocking Bradley Chubb
Injuries have hit every part of the North Carolina roster, and the offensive line is no exception. Even the guys who are playing, like center Cam Dillard, are playing in pain. That’s a big concern considering that Chubb plays for NC State. The Wolfpack star had another monster game against the Demon Deacons with five tackles for a loss and two and a half sacks. Chubb can wreck solid, healthy lines. There’s no telling what he can do to the Tar Heels'.
Based on what has happened this year for both teams, NC State is the easy choice to win this game. The Wolfpack play good defense, and North Carolina has not moved the ball well against quality opponents. But attitude is important, and there have to be questions about the Pack's mindset following another excruciating loss. On the other side, UNC is coming off consecutive wins that followed a game in which it played toe-to-toe with No. 3 Miami. Two factors will push NC State over the top. Physically, especially along the line of scrimmage, NC State is vastly better. Plus, nothing motivates State like a matchup with North Carolina, regardless of the Heels’ record. It will be a battle, but the Wolfpack will prevail on Senior Day at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Prediction: NC State 27, North Carolina 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.